Based on the stories of Stephen King, Castle Rock is an original horror series, one that plays on common themes found in King’s novels whilst weaving an ambiguous, slow-paced and oftentimes confusing story set in the fictional town of Castle Rock. While the plot keeps the big questions hanging over every meticulously crafted scene, at times the show feels a little pretentious with its execution, bloating the run-time unnecessarily with a few episodes that fail to progress the storyline and ending on a highly controversial and open-ended scene to close the season out.
The story follows various inhabitants around the quiet town of Castle Rock and in particular two key characters, Henry Deaver (André Holland) and a man simply referred to as The Kid (Bill Skarsgård). Henry is the main protagonist for much of the run time here and the series sees him returning to his childhood town to confront his troubled past. From repressed memories of an incident in the woods to the fractured family life as a result of his Mother suffering from dementia, Henry has quite the tumultuous time returning to Castle Rock.
Contrasting this is the mysterious silent man simply referred to as The Kid. While it’s never initially clear who this character is, dark omens and bad luck gravitate around him and the town is plunged into darkness as The Kid winds up in Shawshank and later on, Henry’s residence. This all builds toward a climactic ending that raises some big questions around reality, life and religion but fails to ignite the same explosive, climactic ending most of King’s books have in abundance.
To give much more away about the story would be to spoil some of the nicely worked twists late on. The Queen in particular is a beautifully plotted episode that takes a refreshingly original look at dementia and turns it into a really smartly worked plot device. This 60 minute episode is a tad longer than the rest on offer and is easily the highlight of the show. The finale is well worked too although those going into this expecting everything to be wrapped up and explained by the show’s end will certainly be left wanting.
Despite the ambiguous ending and exhaustingly slow pace, thematically at least Castle Rock feels like a living, breathing Stephen King world. From thought-provoking ideas about good and evil to the recurring references to chess and God, Castle Rock does a great job providing a lot of interesting questions to ponder during the show’s run time but not much in the way of answers. Some will certainly take to this style of plotting; in many ways the show plays off the success of shows like Lost with its symbology and various theories running rampant through the episodes. While this allows us to fill in the gaps and make our own assumptions on what’s happening, it also leaves far too many stones unturned by the time the first season ends.
There’s no denying Castle Rock nails its atmospheric chills and intriguing premise with more than a hint of Stephen King’s influence. The fusing of themes and compelling characters is well done and for the most part, Castle Rock does manage to hold your attention for the majority of its run time. While there are moments where the show loses some momentum, especially midway through its 10 episode run time, the final few episodes are worth the perseverance, with The Queen one of the smartest written episodes to come out this year. Castle Rock won’t be for everyone and the ending in particular is sure to leave many disgruntled at the lack of answers but those after a chilling, mysterious ride should certainly give this one a go.
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Verdict - 7.5/10